Santa's Elves - Helping Local Families for 15 Years!
Tom Hammacher has been running Santa’s Elves and playing Santa for well over a decade; 2015 marks the charity’s 16th year. Santa’s Elves is dedicated to providing a Christmas for Dundalk families who can’t afford it. Hammacher interviews the families to determine need. Then, during the months leading up to Christmas, he and his volunteers collect canned food, toys, money, and Christmas trees. Volunteers organize the toys and deliver to the local families who otherwise would have a hard time filling their stockings. Some of the toys they’ve gathered have included skateboards, boardgames, Legos, and Barbie dolls (though the charity stops short of pricey electronics).
Above: Presents waiting to be distributed, Inset: donation barrel
In recent years, the charity has given “over 90 kids probably 8-10 toys for each child,” according to Hammacher. In 2013 alone, Santa’s Elves helped 168 kids and 78 families.
His first ad in the Dundalk Eagle was in 1999, when Hammacher started the charity. “I was a lot thinner back then,” he remembers. Thin or not, Tom has relished dressing as Santa during appearances (one year he even bleached out his beard to look more authentic). He rides in the sled that he converted from a boat trailer and has been revising and updating as his own personal labor of love. The sled has been pulled by a variety of vehicles, including a vintage 1957 Chevy truck, over the years.
Above: The original sled in its initial and finished phases
In talking about the charity, Tom is always loud in his praise for local businesses who contributed to the charity’s success in 2012. Mike Tyson at Poor Boy’s has provided the evergreens that are given away to become Christmas trees for well over 10 years. Other places that come in for Tom’s praise include the Patapsco United Methodist Church and Dunman Way Apartments, locations which helped greatly in the gathering of toys. “It’s so much work,” Hammacher says, “I’m really grateful to have had the help that I’ve had.”
Tom’s speech is peppered with the names of friends, acquaintances, and businesses which have helped him in years past, along with outbursts of praise from the seasonal Santa. His friend Wes Souders has driven the truck that pulls the charity’s sled (a task sometimes shared with another buddy, Bob Schoener). Though starring as Santa, Hammacher prefers a fairly silent role during appearances, leaving the public speaking part of the job to Schoener, who has talked about the charity with WJZ-TV in the past.
Hammacher has poured much of his creativity into the physical props that the charity uses, such as the sled, truck, and the collection barrels. He has singlehandedly painted the pressed cardboard drums used as collection barrels at least three times, he says. Placement of these barrels is crucial to the success of the charity, with some locations proving to be fantastic places to gather toys, while others have been less productive. Hammacher is constantly evaluating which locations are likely to accumulate the most toys for his families.
Above: Barrel, Santa and his special chair,
and other decorations in the current Hammacher collection
He cites Poor Boys and Big Lots as both faithful sponsors and great locations for the donation barrels. Thompson Hyundai and the Verizon store near Mars Avenue (on Wise Avenue) come in for their share of the gratitude for their roles in collecting toys in years past.
But not all great contributors have been large companies. Last year, for example, he remembers “I was totally amazed--Sonny’s Hair Salon in Edgemere really rocked; they must have filled my barrel 3-4 times! They have a lot of very devoted customers, and every time I turned the corner, the owner would call me and say ‘Tom, you need to come in here--your barrel’s full again.’ ”
3-4 years ago, he recalls, the assistant manager of Big Lots saw Tom driving the sled and truck when he was picking up his son from school, and asked Tom if he was running a charity. Toy donations were scarce that year, and Tom didn’t know how to increase them.
She said, “I have a whole box of toys,” Tom remembers, “She blew my mind. There was a huge box full from top to bottom and overflowing with toys that hadn’t yet been picked up."
“I almost cried my eyes out; it meant so much to me!”
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